Thorn Creek district curbs inflow limits
By Casey Toner firstname.lastname@example.org August 23, 2013 8:24PM
Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District executive director Jennifer Hindel stands outside the water treatment plant. | Casey Toner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: September 26, 2013 6:50AM
The Thorn Creek Basin Sanitary District in Chicago Heights has done away with a program that required the six municipalities it services to spend more than $2.8 million a year to fix the sewer infrastructure.
The district’s board voted in July to end the Infiltration and Inflow Limits Program, which was first enacted in 2005.
It ended the program due to what Thorn Creek officials said was increased oversight of municipal sewer systems by the United States Environmental Protection Agency.
The wastewater treatment facility’s program required each of the municipalities it serves — Crete, South Chicago Heights, Chicago Heights, Homewood, Park Forest and Steger — to spend $30 per person annually to fix their sewer systems if the municipalities sent more wastewater to the district than was allowed.
Jennifer Hindel, the district’s executive director, said that leaky municipal sewer pipes and illegal sump pumps result in excess water coming into the district.
The additional water is a problem because when the district cannot hold any more water, it discharges untreated wastewater into Thorn Creek.
“We don’t refuse to treat it but what we can’t treat goes out into Thorn Creek,” Hindel said. “We treat 95 percent of it, the rest is diluted.”
Every year since the ordinance was enacted, all six municipalities exceeded the district’s requirements. As such, the six municipalities were required to spend more than $20 million on infrastructure improvements in the past eight years.
The larger the municipality, the more money it was required to spend. For example, South Chicago Heights spent about $120,000 annually to fix the problem while Chicago Heights spent more than $900,000 a year, Hindel said.
Chicago Heights Mayor David Gonzalez did not respond to multiple messages asking him to talk about the program.
Hindel said the program’s goal was to reduce the amount of wastewater going into the district for treatment.
The program was cut short before district officials could see noticeable progress concerning water intake.
If the sewer work had continued through 2020, Hindel said the district would see results.
According to Hindel, the board voted to end the program because the federal EPA is now starting to oversee and regulate municipal sewer systems — which is what Thorn Creek’s program was designed to do.
“We removed ourselves from an enforcement role,” Hindel said.